An edge-of-your-seat tale of two "maximalist" mixes
The Internet has enabled every music listener's natural impulse — to imbibe as much different music as possible — and has exposed genre as both a necessary label for communication, and a painfully tired marketing tool. "Maximalism" is the buzzword right now, as the music itself has started to catch up to the varied tastes of listeners. Simon Reynolds' essay for Pitchfork, "Maximal Nation," placed producer Rustie and his 2011 album Glass Swords, a Death Star laser-blast of '80s funk synths, backwards dubstep breakdowns, and druggy hip-hop rhythms, in the eye of the impending, maximalist storm. Nicki Minaj's Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded, a mess in the best sense of the word, is Billboard chart-topping proof of something that has been apparent to anyone who's actually listened to mixes and left the house to hear DJs: Genre-hopping, sound-mashing, and connection-making are now the norm.
The maximalist thrill of last month was Rustie's Essential Mix for the BBC. Essential Mix is a collection of new and old Rustie songs and music from similar artists like Hudson Mohawke, occasionally interrupted by flexible, tasteful hip-hop with a great deal of sonic similarity to Rustie and friends' production (Rick Ross' "MMG The World Is Ours," Wiz Khalifa's "Guilty Conscience"). It's these moments, though, when Essential Mix verges into maximal territory not defined by Rustie's signature — New Jack Swing by way of Sonic the Hedgehog 2 electro explosion — that the mix doesn't work.
Consider the mix's bounce from Rustie-isms to rap, and back again: Hudson Mohawke to Rick Ross to Rustie to Clams Casino (with werewolf sounds) to Juicy J & Lex Luger to Obey City. Though there's some sonic similarity between these, the Juicy J track feels like a dubstep drop — the big dumb obvious moment of partying, after a whole bunch of calm. And then it's back down to wicky-wicky, synth-fart weirdness. I don't hear maximal, I hear Rustie's signature sound, awkwardly interrupted by some rap music. Too much of a specific type of maximalism, occasionally derailed by entry-level RSS feed rap, loses it novelty pretty quickly and, well, stops being maximal, doesn't it?
There's no flow or sense of comfort to Rustie's Essential Mix and if THAT'S THE WHOLE POINT, DUH, rap producer Ryan Hemsworth's mix for the website Live for the Funk doubles down on Rustie's mannered chaos. While Rustie exhibits a frustrating, outsider's respect for hip-hop and R&B, which finds him rarely manipulating the tracks, Hemsworth prefers an obnoxious, next-level Girl Talk-ing of his choices: He pairs a capellas from Tumblr rap hits with shards of instrumentals, original productions, and strange left-field samples (personal favorite: pairing tough-guy and -girl raps from Three 6 Mafia's "Late Nite Tip" with sad-sack piano from "Instrumental" by the Microphones). When Hemsworth drops Clams Casino's "I'm God," it's to derail his own remix of Main Attrakionz and Danny Brown's "Suffocation," slipping Clammy Clams' weather-worn Imogen Heap wails underneath Brown's song-swiping verse, further upping the energy.
The goal here is as much music as possible and the thrill of listening is how Hemsworth always seems on the precipice of losing control. He fires a two-step Mariah Carey remix straight through Grimes' Final Fantasy banger "Majical Cloudz," and it would probably make unabashed Mariah fan Claire Boucher blush with excitement. Delightfully inane radio hit "Cashin' Out" by um, Ca$h Out is caught up in the footwork Vangelis swirl of Kuedo's "Vectoral." Late in the mix, at about the point where maybe you've checked your iTunes to see how much is left, Hemsworth toys with uptempo house, grabbing your attention once again. Then, he interrupts it with Shady Blaze's double-time rapping underneath stuttering rhythms, reinventing the Main Attrakionz pal as a cheeseball hip-house MC.
There are so many cluttered moments of genius, in which three or four ideas are running into each other, that I can't even begin to imagine how this mix came together. Fitting Hemsworth's description ("a kitchen-sink mix"), LFTF feels like a vomiting up of the producer's hard drive: Every idea and half-idea, every chintzy mash-up and artful fusion sprinkled together, bursting at the seams with energy, and fueled by unpredictability. Where Rustie politely locates musical similarities, Hemsworth adventurously uncovers revelatory cross-genre relationships.